Every month since early in 2018, the Oregon Department of Human Services has been publishing reports for Gov. Kate Brown showing its progress to rebuild and improve the state’s foster care system.
The monthly reports have evolved. Some statistics that DHS reported in the past to the governor are no longer being reported to her. We are not sure that’s an improvement.
Gov. Kate Brown requested the monthly reports after a devastating state audit in January 2018. The audit showed that the state’s child welfare system was so disorganized and inconsistent it was putting the children it served at high risk. The audit said chronic understaffing of caseworkers and overwhelming workloads were having a terrible impact on the state’s ability to care for some of its more vulnerable children. DHS also lacked data to track its performance.
DHS, Gov. Brown and legislators have worked together and made many improvements since then. Most notable perhaps is more caseworkers have been hired. And Gov. Brown established a child welfare oversight board in April 2019 to more closely monitor progress.
There used to be a link to that audit on the DHS website. If it’s there still, we can’t find it. That’s a shame. It’s a piece of history of Oregon’s DHS that should never be forgotten. The audit can be found on the secretary of state’s website.
What’s in the monthly reports to the governor has changed. They are much easier to read now. They are more colorful. There are far fewer numbers. Some change is to be expected — even necessary — as priorities and problems evolve and metrics are reexamined.
A metric we noticed that is gone: re-abuse. It was a metric established to measure how often children who are mistreated are mistreated again.
Specifically the definition is “of all children who were victims of a substantiated or indicated report of maltreatment during a 12-month target period, what percent were the victims of another substantiated or indicated maltreatment allegation within 12 months.” The state’s goal was a rate of less than or equal to 9.1%, and it wanted to see the rate decline. The state’s numbers were 9.6% in the second quarter of 2017, 10.3% in the third quarter of 2017 and 10.9% in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the March 2018 monthly report to the governor. In March 2020 it was 11.4%.
If you look at the more recent reports to the governor, that re-abuse metric is missing. The state still tracks it. It just doesn’t share it any more in reports to the governor.
We wanted to know why. DHS’s short answer is: It doesn’t really move. It stays pretty much the same. So DHS told us it didn’t feel like it “did not provide a valuable update on what happened on a monthly basis.”
We disagree. It represents children that are harmed again when the state knew they had been harmed before. For March 2020, the total number of child victims in Oregon was 12,538. Of those, 11,110 were not harmed again or did not have a report of harm within a year. But 1,428 had been harmed again.
The re-abuse statistic may not move much, despite the improvements DHS is making, but it should be reported to the governor. It’s a sad and terrible number. One of the primary purposes of Oregon’s child welfare effort is to protect children from future harm if they have already experienced maltreatment. We need to be reminded of the failures as well as the progress.